Rose Weasley was seriously annoyed, and getting more so every minute.
She looked up from the books and papers strewn across the library table where she was trying to work on an very complicated essay on Wolfsbane Potion, and glared at the object of her annoyance. He sat at a table three spaces away, the surface in front of him also covered in parchment and books, his fair hair almost glowing in the dim library lights ... and completely oblivious of her irritation. In fact, Scorpius Malfoy was currently leafing through a Potions textbook, tapping the feather of his quill lightly on his chin, and looking utterly engrossed in his reading.
Rose stared back down again at her parchment. She picked up her quill and dipped it in ink, preparing to write, when the stifled giggling began once more. She gritted her teeth and glared over at Malfoy again. This time, however, there was a reaction from him – he too, was glancing into the stacks behind him. Without even looking, Rose knew exactly who was there – a collection of girls she had privately named the Gaggle. About six of them, ranging from second through to fifth year girls, there were usually several to be found wherever Malfoy was, giggling and trying to get his attention.
Bloody, bloody Malfoy, thought Rose in irritation. And look at him, Mr Suave. Acting all cool, just to get all the girls even more fired up.
The infuriating git didn't seem to notice her heated stare, and clearly the whispering going on behind him didn't seem to bother him too much, for he simply turned back to his work. Rose knew exactly how much work Malfoy had to do because they were doing the same NEWT classes. Both she and Malfoy had received eleven Outstanding OWLS in the previous year, and both were taking the same NEWT classes – Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Transfiguration, and Herbology. She barely had time to breathe with all the homework, and was struggling to fit in her Prefect Duties too. Which is why she had found this quiet and hidden corner of the Library to work – for some peace and quiet.
And yes, Rose was also hiding – like a scared little Niffler – from her family. The Great Weasley-Potter Clan, who kept tracking her down and getting her to help with homework, or check their essays, or hand over her notes from the previous year. She was exhausted, and tired of it all, and much as she loved the lot of them, right now she thought she hated them too.
Her ruminations were interrupted by another burst of whispering from the stacks, and that was it – she'd had enough.
She grabbed her bag and started to shove books and papers into it with gusto, not caring how much noise she made. Glancing up, she saw a startled Malfoy staring at her in amazement, mouth open. Rose was not known for making a scene, but tonight she was tired and irritable, still had another foot of essay to complete, and frankly didn't give a damn what anyone thought of her. Sweeping her bag onto her shoulder, she strode away, giving Malfoy a glare that her mother would have been proud of.
Rose was halfway to the Library doors when she heard a loud whisper coming from behind her.
"Weasley! WEASLEY! Wait, damn it!"
She looked over her shoulder and found Malfoy walking fast behind her as he crammed his last books into his haversack.
"Oh, what, Malfoy?" she snapped, turning back around and heading for the doors. She banged out of them, ignoring the shocked expression of Madame Pince, who had nodded off at the main desk and was now thoroughly vertical with surprise.
Malfoy grabbed her arm a few feet into the corridor. "Will you stop, please?"
Sighing exaggeratedly, Rose stopped and turned to him, arms folded across her chest. "WHAT, Malfoy? I don't have time for this, whatever it is."
He set his jaw and stared her down as he too folded his arms.
"What was that for?"
"What was WHAT for, Malfoy? Seriously, have you been hit by a Babbling Charm?"
"No, I meant that filthy look you shot me as you left. What did I do?"
"It's not what you did, it's what your little fan club keeps doing. Following you around, giggling, disturbing my peace ... they're driving me nuts, Malfoy, and you need to do something about it."
Hefting her bag again, Rose started off down the corridor, and was a few strides away when she realised she'd left Malfoy behind. Swinging around, she opened her mouth to start again when she noticed the look on his face.
Oh great. Clearly, he was going with Complete Bafflement.
"Listen, Malfoy – this 'I've no idea what you're talking about" act is not going to work with me," she hissed. "I am not about to stroke your ego by explaining myself and looking like a fool. You know exactly what this is about."
Shaking his head, he glared at her through slitted eyes. "Weasley, clearly you've been spending too much time working and your tiny mind is fried," he spat back, colour rising in his face. "What fan club?"
"Those moronic fools that follow you everywhere!" Rose shouted at him, waving her arms about in frustration. "That bunch of giggling twits! Why don't you just snog a few of them and be done with it – I'm sure they'd be delighted to oblige you, and then they would SHUT UP for once! You're always working where I am, and they're always there too, distracting me, and I just do not have the time anymore!"
Malfoy appeared speechless, his mouth working silently while his face became redder and redder.
When he did speak, his voice was very soft. "Weasley, seriously – I have no idea what you are talking about. I've never, I – uh – I don't even know them!"
And finally Rose comprehended that he was truly embarrassed, and her hand came to her mouth.
How was it that this boy, this really, really good-looking boy, had so little self-awareness that he didn't know the effect he had on the girls around him? Over six foot tall, blond, and leanly muscled from playing Seeker on the Ravenclaw Quidditch Team, Captain of the side to boot, clever and well-spoken. Rose had always assumed his quietness came from a superiority complex and snobbishness (yes, she had read her History of Magic textbook and knew all about Lucius and Draco Malfoy), so she'd kept clear apart from their occasional academic sparring in class.
Could she have been wrong – could Scorpius Malfoy just be really, really shy?
"I just... er, I just thought you liked all their attention," Rose stammered.
"What attention? I don't know why they're there – they just are, all the time, and... " Sudden comprehension dawned on Malfoy's refined features, and he went so red he looked like he'd just taken a double dose of Pepperup Potion. "Oh Great Godric, please don't tell me they're trying to ..." Overcome, he stuttered to a halt and stared fixedly at his shoes.
"Oh crap," said Rose in muffled tones as she covered her mouth in horror at her gaffe. "I'm sorry, Malfoy – I thought you were playing it loose and cool with them to keep them interested."
He looked her in incomprehension. "Weasley, you've known me for five years. Do I look like the loose and cool type to you?"
"Well, actually..." and over his shoulder, through the glass insets in the Library doors, she spotted the Gaggle on its way out and grinned. "Actually, you'd better duck, Malfoy, because they're heading this way now and if they see you ... well, let's just say that Annie Fairweather is so keen she'll trip you up and be underneath you by the time you land."
Rose just had time to think oh yes, there are the famous Seeker reflexes I've heard so much about before Malfoy, with a look of horror back at the Library, grabbed her hand and bolted off down the corridor, pulling her behind him. It was a good thing she was tall (taking after her father – her mother was a midget) because she was able to just about keep up with him with her long legs stretching as far as they could.
Some minutes later, Malfoy cruised to a stop on the seventh floor, having taken such a convoluted route Rose wasn't entirely sure where she was. Pulling her hand out of his, she dumped her bag on the floor and bent over to put her hands on her knees. panting and gasping for breath. To her irritation, Malfoy wasn't even breathing hard.
"I think we lost them – what do you think?" he said peering into the gloom down the corridor.
Rose finally managed to get her breath back and stood up straight, pulling her deteriorating red ponytail out of its confines and aggressively tying it back again with the elastic. "No, what you've lost is your mind!" she gasped. "That's just going to get them going – Merlin help you the next time you want to study in the Library. They'll hunt you like a rabid dog."
With a sigh, Malfoy slid down against the wall, crossing his arms across his raised knees and resting his head on it. "I'm so bloody tired, and I really needed to finish that Wolfbane essay tonight," he said, his voice muffled.
Rose sat next to him, rubbing her eyes. "Me too," she said. "I've got patrols for the next three nights in a row. I swapped with Al because he's got Quidditch tryouts... Oh right, so do you, I suppose?"
"Yeah. I have to replace half my team, which should be challenging. At least Potter has a bunch of Quidditch-crazy housemates who are dying to try out – I have to bribe people to give it a go. Ravenclaws are too cerebral for their own good sometimes."
Rose snorted. "Yes, but most of our lot are relatives, so Albus has to be careful in case he's accused of nepotism."
Malfoy raised his head and looked at her curiously. "Are you the only Weasley that doesn't play?"
"Oh, I play, but only at home or in my spare time. And I have got absolutely no spare time this year at all. Albus and James have been nagging me for years to try out for Keeper, but there are far more important things."
Malfoy leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. "Like grades?"
Rose sat upright and glared at him. "Yes, like grades, Malfoy! And don't tell me they don't matter to you either, because you work at yours as much as I do! I've seen you in the Library at all hours too."
"Stand down, Weasley," said Malfoy, raising his eyebrow. "At ease. I'm not taking the mickey. It's just that Quidditch is the only thing where I can just be, and not think, and I don't know why you don't try it if you're as good... as you say you are."
He turned his head to her and suddenly grinned, something he did rarely, and it transformed his serious face. Rose stared at the dimple in his left cheek (how have I never seen that before?) and noticed that his eyes had lit up with amusement. Blue, not grey like his father's. And so much warmer...
Rose found herself helplessly smiling back at him, and then caught herself doing it and tried to turn it into a frown. No, no, oh no – you are not going to become one of his fans. Get a grip, Rose. With an effort, she looked away and stared at the tapestry opposite, which featured a rather repugnant scene of a fat man teaching tutu-clad trolls to dance.
"Well, that's one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen," she said, indicating the tapestry.
Malfoy contemplated the artwork. "Clearly, you don't share a dorm with Lysander Scamander and have seen him cutting his toenails, and then saving the clippings in a jar," he said dryly.
Rose pulled a disgusted face, and then started giggling.
"Apparently," continued Malfoy, starting to laugh himself, "your toenails contain your magical power source, and if you leave them lying around, the Wrackspurts will use them to insert themselves into your brain."
"Well," snorted Rose, "that's not as revolting as James. Albus says he keeps forgetting to put his underwear in the laundry basket and so he's come up with a plan to get four uses out of each pair of underpants – normal, inside-out, back-to-front, and inside-out-back-to-front."
Their laughter echoed around the corridor, and after a few seconds they both subsided into silence.
Rose shot him a final glance and then started to get to her feet. "Well, fun as this has been, I need to go find a place to finish that essay," she said with a sigh.
Malfoy stood up fluidly and offered her his hand. She took it and stood, letting go quickly. "Me too. Any ideas for quiet places to work?" he said.
"I don't know – I've even tried the Potions dungeon and apart from nearly getting hypothermia, Roxanne still managed to track me down," said Rose, frowning.
"This is a huge castle, there has to be a place somewhere," said Malfoy. "Nothing big, just somewhere where we can't be found... "
Rose stared at him, dumbfounded by the use of the word "we". She felt a blush starting (one of the characteristics that she had inherited from her adored father that she could have easily done without) and started babbling to cover. "Definitely needs to be warm. Scotland's climate sucks."
"Nine months of winter, and three months of bloody awful weather!" said Malfoy with a grin.
Rose looked at him again, smiling back despite herself. Malfoy actually had a sense of humour, which startled her a bit. Her father's words to her in first year at King's Cross ("don't get too friendly with him, Rosie") had always been there at the back of her mind, so she'd steered clear without being rude and just avoided any personal contact with him. And here he was in front of her, not what she expected and certainly not how she pictured a Malfoy to be.
The sound of a low roar, a grinding of stone against stone, interrupted her thoughts and she jumped back from the wall, startled. Before their eyes, a simple wooden door appeared, engraved with a lion and an eagle, and with a brass door handle.
Rose looked quizzically at Malfoy, who shrugged. "I didn't do it," he said. He leaned closer to inspect the door. "Never seen this before. You?"
Rose shook her head. "Interesting that it's got our house emblems on it, don't you think?"
"Yeah – who knows what's in there," said Malfoy, then turned to grin at her. The Weasley blush threatened to overcome her, so she grasped the door handle to cover her confusion.
"Stand back, Ravenclaw!" said Rose cheekily. "I'm the brave Gryffindor here, so I might as well take a look if you're too scared, right?" She pushed the door open to the sound of Malfoy scoffing.
They stepped inside a round, cosy room. A fire was blazing in the fireplace, sending out welcome warmth to two squishy leather armchairs positioned in front of it, with a low table between them. Just behind the armchairs were two desks pushed together, so they were facing each other, each with a comfortable-looking upright chair and a desk lamp. At the back of the room were several alcoves filled with books, and one stocked with cauldrons of various sizes and what looked like potions ingredients.
Rose looked at Malfoy, eyebrows raised in surprise. And then it hit her at the same time as him as they stared at each other. "The Room of Requirement!" they said together.
"I've heard about it but I've never been able to get it to open before," said Malfoy, nodding in approval.
"Me neither," said Rose, putting her bag on one of the tables and heading towards the back to check out the books. "Look at this – it's all the prescribed reading for all our subjects. We'll only have to go to the Library for the Restricted Section!"
Malfoy came up behind her and reached past her to pull down one of the heftier tomes. As he did so, he brushed her shoulder and she got a whiff of a really pleasing scent – woodsy and clean. She closed her eyes to breathe it in, and then realised what she was doing and opened them quickly again. Fortunately, Malfoy was already browsing through his book and hadn't noticed her momentary lapse.
What are you doing? Rose berated herself. You've never behaved like this around Malfoy... or anyone for that matter. Stop it right now, for Merlin's sake. He'll start thinking you're a blithering idiot like the rest of those twerps that follow him around.
Taking a deep breath, she reached for a random book and then walked over to a desk. Distractedly, Malfoy followed her, still reading, before taking up the seat at the opposite table.
That night, Rose got more work done in the space of a few hours than she had managed in a long time. Speaking frequently to compare notes and share new information, the two of them had completed the essay on Wolfsbane Potion that was due in a few days, plus started on the Herbology research that was due in a week. After a few hours work, they retired to the armchairs in front of the fire, relaxing and putting their feet up on the footstools that had somehow appeared in front of them.
"So, Weasley, now that we've found this spot, how are you planning to explain your evening absences to the rest of your clan?" asked Malfoy lazily, sliding further down in the chair and stretching his legs out to an impossible length. "And how will they feel when they know you have me for a study partner?"
"It's none of their business, Malfoy," said Rose pointedly. "Anyway, they don't have an issue with you. Wait – why do you think they would have a problem with you?" She sat up straight and glared over at him.
Malfoy sighed and glanced over at her. "Well, it's no secret that our parents don't like each other," he said carefully. "I must say, I've always been on my guard around you Weasleys and Potters, just in case someone felt the need to even some old scores. That said," he amended hurriedly at the sight of her expression, "apart from the exploding bludger affair in third year thanks to James Potter..."
Rose rolled her eyes and butted right in. "Ok, so excluding James – who pulls pranks on everyone, not just you – what other problems have you had with us?"
"None, I suppose, except that none of you have ever really spoken to me except in passing. Oh, except for Albus, and all we really talk about is the Quidditch season. He's a good guy."
"I could say the same to you. Tonight is the first time you've ever said anything more to me than 'pass the boomslang skin'."
"Fair enough." He turned his head and looked directly at her, a half smile on his face, and a little knot of tension formed in her stomach. "So since we're going to be spending a lot more time together... " and the knot of tension doubled in size, "how about we resort to 'Scorpius' and 'Rose'?"
"Sounds reasonable," said Rose firmly, to disguise the slight tremor in her voice. He was watching her closely, and – was it her imagination? Did his eyes flick down to her mouth, just for a millisecond? She decided she was being ridiculous. Scorpius Malfoy was interested in what she could do with her brains, not snogging her. Even if she had the slightest inkling as to what type of girl he would be interested in, she was fairly sure she wasn't it. Taking the bull by the horns, she leaned across the space with her right hand. "Friends, then?"
Scorpius hesitated for a second and then stretched over, taking her hand and shaking it gently. He held on for a second longer than was necessary, squeezing her fingers gently. "Friends."
And, by Merlin's baggy underwear, Rose was damned if she didn't feel her heart rate pick up noticeably and feel her breath hitch in her chest. Her hand tingled warmly as soon as she let go, and she hurriedly looked away from his warm gaze to stare into the fire, hoping the firelight would disguise the flush she felt rising into her cheeks.
Oh, bloody hell. This was going to be harder than it seemed.